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Netherlands: Human Rights Institute Rules Police Administrative Staffer Can Wear Hijab with Uniform

(Dec. 1, 2017) On November 20, 2017, the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (College voor de rechten van de mens), an independent supervisory body established in 2002 that took over the tasks of the Dutch Equal Rights Commission, issued a non-binding ruling to the effect that the Dutch police were wrong to prohibit a Muslim woman officer from wearing a headscarf in a job in which contact with the public is limited. (Police Admin Worker Can Wear Hijab with a Uniform, Says Human Rights Council, DUTCHNEWS (Nov. 20, 2017); Headscarf Ban for On-Duty Police Is Discrimination: Dutch Human Rights Council, DAILY SABAH (Nov. 21, 2017); What Does the Institute Do?, Netherlands Institute for Human Rights website (last visited Nov. 28, 2017).) The Institute’s rulings are not binding, however, and a police comment on the finding has not yet been issued. (Police Admin Worker Can Wear Hijab with a Uniform, Says Human Rights Council, supra.)

Background

Sarah Izat, the officer concerned, was permitted to wear a headscarf while carrying out administrative duties, but had to remove it during interactions with the public, such as when taking live declarations via a three-dimensional television picture, known as 3D declarations. (Janene Pieters, Police Ban on Headscarf with Uniform Is Discrimination: Human Rights Council, NETHERLANDS TIMES (Nov. 20, 2017).) At present, police officers are prohibited from wearing wear religious attire such as headscarves or crucifixes and other religious or political symbols with the police uniform on the grounds that such accoutrements “could harm the impartiality of the police” (id.) and that officers should present “a neutral and uniform appearance,” and the ban was aimed at the safety of the officers. (Police Admin Worker Can Wear Hijab with a Uniform, Says Human Rights Council, supra.)

At police stations with a 3D counter, the declarant can scan a passport or driving license, and the officer immediately knows who is in the room, and due to the 3D image, it is as if the officer is on the other side of the desk from the declarant; the officer then records the declaration in the usual way. (Aangifte via 3D televisiebeeld in Lansingerland [Declaration via 3D television image in Lansingerland] (Feb. 13, 2013), National Police website.)

The issue of whether or not police officers should be permitted to wear headscarves has been under discussion “for some time.” (Police Admin Worker Can Wear Hijab with a Uniform, Says Human Rights Council, supra.) In May 2017, the Amsterdam police had proposed allowing it “to promote diversity in the corps and attract more police officers with an immigration background,” but because it proved to be too controversial, National Police Chief Erik Akerboom decided to maintain the ban. (Id.; Janene Pieters, Headscarf Ban Prevents Amsterdam Police from Recruiting Minorities: Top Cop, NL TIMES (May 18, 2017); Janene Pieters, Top Cop: No Headscarves with Dutch Police Uniforms, NL TIMES (May 26, 2017).)

The Ruling

The Institute held that, in Izat’s case, the police made a “forbidden distinction on the basis of religion.” (Pieters, supra; Judgments: The National Police Discriminates Against a Police Officer by Forbidding Her to Perform Her Duties (Answering the 0900 Service Number and Recording 3D Declarations) in Police Uniform Combined with a Headscarf, Judgment No. 2017-135 (Nov. 20, 2017), Netherlands Institute for Human Rights website (in Dutch).) The council also stated that in her case “the need for a neutral appearance is limited, given the nature of the administrative job” she carries out. (Police Admin Worker Can Wear Hijab with a Uniform, Says Human Rights Council, supra.)

The ruling applies only to Izat’s case, without offering a broader interpretation of the prohibition on display of religious symbols such as the wearing of headscarves. (Headscarf Ban for On-Duty Police Is Discrimination: Dutch Human Rights Council, supra.) Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution states, “[a]ll persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.” (The Constitution of the Kingdom of the Netherlands 2008, Government of the Netherlands website (click on pdf icon to view text); Grondwet [Constitution] (Aug. 24, 1815, as last amended Nov. 17, 2017), OVERHEID.NL.)

While Izat’s attorney said “[w]e would have liked it if the Commission had made its decision a bit broader,” she expressed her and her client’s satisfaction with it. (Headscarf Ban for On-Duty Police Is Discrimination: Dutch Human Rights Council, supra.)